Being very open about my mental health is a coping mechanism, I suppose. If I can speak in an articulate way about why I am how I am then I can rationalise it; if I can rationalise it, I am in control. Talking to my parents, my friends or sometimes strangers about the nuances of my anxiety and how I can spot and (sometimes, still a work in progress) successfully extinguish panic attacks or rages reinforces not only how my anxiety is a part of me (which is good and fine), but how it is a part of me I can control and sometimes even use to my advantage.
I have a very good and dear university friend and we frequently talk about our mental health. Talking through things with her assists in the development of control (and I hope she feels the same) because when I’m talking with her, I know that the physical and metaphysical space I’m in is one that is free of judgement or trivialisation and I feel safe. When an intense conversation isn’t something we need, we are both lucky to have a bunch of other close friends we can approach or we have the option of using a dedicated online space if we feel it is appropriate – the university of Nottingham’s feminist campaign group’s page.
Although I don’t really use this anymore ’cause not a student (oh, the harsh reality) the page is essentially an online safe space, defined by Everyday Feminism as a controlled environment – either online of off – where bigotry and oppressive views are not tolerated and where people can discuss certain issues and support one another (see the full definition here).
My wonderful friend is an absolute pro in discussions about safe space and articulates her thoughts on them so beautifully. She has helped me see them as something radical and wonderful against the backdrop of an often unforgiving, negative and unsympathetic world. I feel student communities are often at the forefront of this growing movement, but are also often the ones who are the most hostile towards it too.
Nope, it’s not just the people who went to uni ten or more years ago and perhaps want us to have exactly the same experience as they did (preferably a worse or an easier one though). Safe spaces are at best criticised for mollycoddling those who use them because real life is cruel and we’re supposed to just deal with it, or at worst they violate our entitlement to free speech. A recent harmless thread on menu wording in UoN Fems lead to negative and abrasive reactions which violated the safe space policy and ultimately a Tab news article being written about UoN Fems’ outrage, where quotes where actually stolen from the group and published, though the article has since been deleted. I genuinely don’t understand why the article was written, but it certainly felt reactionary and inspired by ill-feeling. It’s certainly indicative of a preoccupation keenly felt with safe space.
However, I am grateful to my friend and others in the UoN Fems group for helping me cultivate a real faith in safe spaces. I am completely in love with the idea of normalising a culture where we support and listen to each other, where we learn and modulate our conduct in line with what people tell us rather than undermine and dismiss others’ experiences ’cause our privileged asses don’t feel the same oppression others do. Safe spaces make me see the world in a more sympathetic way and, I really think, make their users feel so much less isolated. I just can’t understand why people would scoff in the face of such nurturing sentiments.
As for the notion that online safe spaces violate your freedom of speech – online safe spaces are isolated corners of the Internet for specific people who experience specific things. We have the whole entire Internet and countless online platforms to talk about literally anything we want to, however we want to. If you’re upset because you’re kicked out of a group for undermining someone’s legitimate concerns about wording on a menu then don’t worry! The group maybe wasn’t for you in the first place.
For some more discussion of safe space follow these links: